Tag Archives: Quiz

The Sunday Times Book of Answers part two

Tony Body of York wanted to know the origin of the political terms left wing and right wing ?

Some may have guessed that the terms had something to do with football, but Mr Ross Ferguson-Ford of Stirling University seemed certain that the two terms could ‘ clearly be traced back to Revolutionary France in the last decade of the eighteenth century’.

‘In the legislative assembly of the French Republic, the convention was dominated by two factions—the Montagnards and Girodins. As a result of their respective beliefs and the seating arrangements of the Assembly ( the former sat to the left of the chamber and the latter to the right ), the labelling of political beliefs  according to left/right polarity was instigated.

However, neither was a political party , despite the Montagnardas showing the first traits of socialism in  the form of the Jacobin splinter group, and the application to them of the terms ‘ left wing’ and ‘right wing’ in their modern sense is inappropriate’.

Most commentators agree that this was the origin of the terms.

Why do most countries drive on the right? The Sunday Times wanted to know this.

Richard Sotnik put the blame on Napoleon for thisBefore he became a dominant influence in Europe ‘it was customary to drive or ride on the left hand side. Historically this was to enable the great majority of persons to draw their sword against an oncoming opponent.’

‘ Napoleon modernised this thinking in marching his armies south to Italy. In order to gain time he took advantage of the cool of the shadows of the trees in the strong afternoon sun and therefore obtained extra kilometres. Naturally Britain declined to acknowledge this crude upset to tradition.

Most of the other correspondents to the Sunday Times agreed that Napoleon was the culprit, though no-one else felt that he chose the right handed side because he wanted to take advantage of the cool shadows of the roadside.

Why does the fair hair of so many children darken as they mature ?

Mr James Ellinthorpe of Wiltshire asked this very good question, which your Jotter, whose own golden auburn hair at twenty has now turned to a rather boring shade of dark brown.

Mr Patrick James, whose answer possesses the erudition of a trichologist, explains thus:

Hair and eye colour are interrelated. Colouring depends on two pairs of genes, each pair of the same chromosome but fairly far apart. ‘E’ would represent dominant dark eye; ‘e’ light eye ’H’ would be dark hair and ‘h’ light hair. Thus:

HHEE—dark hair, dark eyes

HhEE —  medium dark hair, dark eyes

HHee—  medium dark hair, hazel eyes


EEhh—–Fast cynope( brown eyes, blond hair)

Eehh——slow cynope

eeHH—–fast glaucope (blue eyes , dark hair)

eeHh——slow glaucope

eehh ——blond

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The Sunday Times Book of Answers (1993)

In 1993 Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil, editor of the Sunday Times, initiated a regular column in his paper inviting readers to submit answers to the origins of well known phrases and institutions. In the same year a book appeared with some of these answers. Many of these submissions now read like the outrageous fictional suggestions that Private Eyeoccasionally publish in one of their columns.

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Who was the ‘ Bob’ in the phrase ‘ Bob’s your uncle ?

Only one reader offered a solution. Bob, according to Tecwen Whittock of mid Glamorgan, was Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne Cecil, better known as Lord Salisbury, the last man to be Prime Minister while a member of the House of Lords. The phrase came into use when Salisbury promoted his nephew, A. J. Balfour, to the post of Chief Secretary for Northern Ireland in 1887. Fifteen years later Balfour succeeded his uncle Bob as Prime Minister.

It is interesting to note that Tecwen Whittock later achieved notoriety as the audience member with the chronic cough who it was alleged helped Major Ingram  win a million pounds on ‘ Who Wants to be a Millionaire ‘. But Whittock was surely incorrect in stating that Balfour was Chief Secretary for Northern Ireland, which only came into existence in 1921, after the island was divided into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Balfour was in fact Chief Secretary of Ireland. So perhaps Mr Whittock was not the reliable quiz expert he appeared to be.

Today there is general acceptance that this derivation is correct.

If it is not over until the fat lady sings, who is the fat lady and what does she sing ?

Four readers thought they had the answer to this question. One thought it was a portly singer in the role of Brunhilde in a Seattle production of Wagner’s Ring; another felt it was the woman who sang the national anthem at American baseball matches; another argued it was the overweight American diva Kate Smith; however, the most convincing answer came from a Mr Robert Fox of Shrewsbury who contended that it referred to someone who sang at the first performance of Wagner’s Ring in 1876.

Today the most popular derivation is the one featuring the overweight Miss Kate Smith.

When did homosexuals become gay ?

Only one reader dared to answer this question. Ms Emma Fox, a Ph D candidate at my alma mater, the University of Birmingham, argues that the term was beginning to be used by around 1900. According to her, men drawn to wearing gaudy clothes were popularly regarded as effeminate. She argues that in  R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  Jekyll’s admission that he is torn between a life of gaiety and one of gravity suggests that he is a closet homosexual. Also in Conrad’s Victory (1915) the ’openly homosexual Jones wears a ‘ gay’ blue silk dressing gown. By 1957 – 8 yay novelist E. M. Forster used the word in his story ‘The Other Boat’ to described the hedonistic lifestyle which the protagonist Lionel wishes to experience.

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